House debates

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Questions without Notice


2:21 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Why is it essential that proposals for new government spending be offset by savings?

Photo of Lindsay TannerLindsay Tanner (Melbourne, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Finance and Deregulation) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Parramatta for her question. It is critical that new spending proposals be offset by savings in order to ensure we get the budget back into surplus as quickly as possible. That is why the government, in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook papers that were published at the end of last year, had savings that covered all of the new spending initiatives that had been announced close to the budget last year. That is why we will be doing the same thing in this forthcoming budget for any new spending that occurs prior to the budget, and that is why we will be having savings in that budget that also cover the prospective new commitments.

We have heard a great deal of ranting and raving from the opposition about the evils of deficits in recent times but sadly we have not had the same degree of fiscal discipline coming from them. In fact we have had not one single savings measure put forward by the opposition in spite of the ever-growing list of big unfunded spending promises—including in more recent times, of course, a new climate change policy costing $3.3 billion over the next four years; $3 billion or so on the Murray-Darling Basin; and, just today being trailed in the media, the prospect of a bigger, bolder parental leave scheme, being funded by the opposition from who knows where.

Since the election in 2007 we have had endless announcements of new spending but not a single savings proposal from the opposition. I am now on to my fourth shadow finance minister, and the first three are all back in the pavilion with ducks beside their names on the scoreboard. Now Barnaby is at the crease and we are waiting to see what he produces. I note that he is now attracting derision even from his own side. The member for Mayo said today when he slipped up on some numbers in a doorstop interview, ‘Oh, no; I’ve done a Barnaby.’ So soon we are going to have a new noun in the Macquarie dictionary as a result of this.

Perhaps somewhat more seriously there was something else said about fiscal responsibility in an interview today—and it was indeed something said by Senator Joyce, the shadow finance minister. He spoke about the alleged evils of government debt and he said:

We are getting to a point where we cannot repay it.

That means that he is asserting on behalf of the opposition that Australia is on the verge of defaulting on its debts. He is not content with alleging that the United States might default or indeed that the Australian state governments might default, which he did a couple of months ago; he is now suggesting that Australia might default on its debts. Statements of this kind indicate why an Abbott-led opposition, the Liberal opposition as it is currently constituted, is a giant risk to the Australian economy and to the future prosperity of Australia working people and the reputation of Australia.

At the time of the change of leadership in the Liberal Party at the end of last year, a lot was said about the Liberal Party reconnecting with its support base. The Leader of the Opposition may have reconnected them with the conspiracy theorists, the haters and the science deniers out there but there is another Liberal support base out there, another much larger Liberal support base—that is, a very large number of good, honest, prudent, hardworking people in the towns and cities of this country who, rightly or wrongly, for many years have voted Liberal because they believe that the Liberal Party are sound economic managers. Those people were supported by the former Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth—who yesterday spoke eloquently about the kind of concerns that he has. It is those Liberal supporters who are being completely betrayed by the Leader of the Opposition, who has said that he is bored by economics and has handed over economic policy and economic management to the outer fringes of the National Party. It is those loyal Liberal voters who will understand why it is a giant risk to Australia to put the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party in charge of the nation’s finances.